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First American Title Ins. Co. v. Hegedus

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 1, 2013

FIRST AMERICAN TITLE INS. CO., Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES A. HEGEDUS and VIRGINIA HEGEDUS, Defendants

MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

On February 8, 2010, Plaintiff First American Title Insurance Co. ("Plaintiff or "First American") filed this action, seeking a declaratory judgment against pro se Defendants James A. Hegedus and Virginia Hegedus ("Defendants"). (D.I. 1) Plaintiff seeks a judicial determination that Defendants have no claim against Plaintiff under a title insurance policy Plaintiff issued to Defendants ("Policy"). On February 22, 2013, the Court held a bench trial. (See Trial Transcript) (hereinafter "Tr.") Based on the findings of fact and conclusions of law below, the Court will enter judgment for Plaintiff and against Defendants.[2]

BACKGROUND

1. On July 5, 2005, Robert L. Ross and Oneida Sandra Ross ("Rosses") acquired title to the property located at 20231 Cubbage Pond Road, Lincoln, DE 19660 (the "Property"). (Ex. P-6)[3]

2. Defendants entered into an Agreement of Sale (the "Agreement") with Carl Spangler ("Spangler") to purchase the Property. (Tr. at 18, 21-22)

3. Thereafter, the Rosses and Spangler entered into a subordination agreement, whereby the Rosses agreed to subordinate the Property to Spangler for the purpose of building a home to sell. (Tr. at 41) The Rosses continued to own the Property. Spangler testified that at no time was any ownership interest in the Property transferred to him. (Tr. at 17, 33, 38-39)

4. On June 14, 2006, Defendants, the Rosses, Spangler, and Attorney Lisa Andersen - an agent of Plaintiff who also acted as Defendants' attorney and title agent - were all present for settlement, whereby the Property was conveyed by deed to Defendants from the Rosses. {Id. at 19) Spangler and Defendants were represented in the transaction by the same real estate agent. {Id. at 27) Defendants paid $275, 000 to purchase the Property. (Ex. P-12 at FA0188) At settlement, Spangler received $181, 223.98 in consideration for the work he had performed building the home on the Property, while the Rosses received $82, 500.00 in consideration for their ownership interest in the Property. (Ex. P-12)

4. By deed dated June 14, 2006, the Rosses conveyed all of their right, title, and A.2d 660, 662 (Del. 1973). The controversy between Plaintiff and Defendants meets each of these criteria. interest in the Property to Defendants. (Ex. P-13) Spangler did not sign the deed. (Id. at FA0191)

5. Also at the settlement, Andersen issued the Policy to Defendants, insuring their title to the Property. (Ex. P-14) Prior to issuance of the Policy, Andersen had conducted a title search and determined that Spangler never held an interest in the Property. (Ex. P-10)

6. Andersen issued two title commitments, the first identifying the lender Defendants anticipated using to finance their purchase of the Property and the second identifying the actual lender. (Tr. at 35-36, 66; Ex. D-33; Ex. D-34) The second commitment indicated that Spangler's signature - in addition to those of the Rosses - would be required on the deed. (Tr. at 38) The final title commitment indicates that title was conveyed by the Rosses. (Ex. P-l 1)

7. Spangler is listed as the Property owner on the MLS sheet and on the Trend listing agreement with ERA Realty. (Ex. D-14) These documents are used in the sale of real estate by licensed real estate agents for the purpose of giving potential buyers details about a property. (Tr. at 41) No evidence was presented that these documents create ownership interests or affect who is in the chain of title.

8. Spangler testified credibly that he never believed he had an ownership interest in the Property, has never asserted a claim of ownership, and will not in the future assert any claim of ownership. (Id. at 17, 20-21) Spangler further testified that at settlement he was paid all monies owed to him for the work he had performed on the Property. (Id. at 20-21) There is no evidence that Spangler has ever filed or asserted any claim against the Property.

9. Attorney Andersen, who has more than 15 years of real estate experience and has handled nearly 1000 closings, testified credibly that Spangler's signature was not necessary on the deed because he had no interest in the Property. (Id. at 31, 38-39) Andersen testified credibly that a title search performed prior to settlement on behalf of Defendants found that there were no recorded documents which indicate Spangler, or anyone but the Rosses, held any interest in the Property. (Id. at 33) Andersen concluded that Spangler's signature was not required on the deed. (Id. at 38-39)

10. William Corrigan, Plaintiffs claims counsel who administered Defendants' claim, and who has more than 30 years experience, testified credibly that because Spangler had no interest in the Property, his signature was not necessary on the deed. (Id. at 51, 68, 70-71)

11. Defendants did not question the Rosses' presence at settlement. (Id. at 39-40) Nor did Defendants object at settlement to Spangler's ...


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